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There is also a bit of Tarantino in the Nibelungen city of Worms

Whe would actually be the turn of the year when Miss Sophie reveals to her butler James at the beginning of the iconic “Dinner for one” that she will not be celebrating her 90th birthday tonight as usual – but instead pack her things and travel, maybe with that Night train to Venice?

But this is supposed to be about the Nibelungen Festival, that’s a completely different story. Don’t worry, it’s coming.

Like New Year’s Eve, Worms usually celebrates a second time a year, namely always in summer. You then dress up, in an evening dress and – of course, it’s 2023 – jumpsuits, a tuxedo and a bow tie. Rheinhessian sparkling wine flows in streams in the decorated park at the foot of the Wormser Dom, this mighty cathedral – and the scenic fireworks display takes place on the stage. These are the Nibelungen Festival.

But something irritated this year. Miss Sophie isn’t sitting at the table, although Worms actually wants “dinner for one”. As always. For 21 years, the city has been celebrating everything from the Christmas market to the museum with the Nibelung branded is, the festival. You want to join the ranks of the greats from Bregenz to Salzburg – and you’ve achieved a lot since the era of Nico Hofmann, director for eight years.

You don’t have to be surprised about the staging, which questions everything that has been shown in Worms in recent years. The risk could be planned – and foreseen by the festival organizers.

With the decision in favor of Pınar Karabulut as the director, she also got her eyes on Worms. As she says herself, it lies on “bodies read as females”, she wants to get away from the “male gaze”, the “male, patriarchal view” of the world. She enjoys discussing the theater as an institution and contributes to debates in books with titles such as “Class and Struggle”. The author of the play, Maria Milisavljević, has reinterpreted Ibsen’s classic Peer Gynt for the Theater Regensburg. The once male protagonist became a woman, more precisely: two women.

Engaging the two artists means for this year’s Nibelungen Festival: calculated confrontation. In this case, two worlds collide. It’s hardly surprising that there was impulsive criticism on social media on the night of the premiere. For example, a Worms after-work politician raged on Facebook that he had never seen such a “quark”.

Does that do the show justice? Let’s go deeper.

What is the Edda Gap?

The dramatist Maria Milisavljević discovered the Eddalücke for herself after receiving an order from the city of the Nibelungs; a thing for true literature lovers, even Google knows surprisingly little about it. This is a gap in the Edda, a collection of poems that the story of the Nibelung made use of – in addition to the material by Friedrich Hebbel. The Edda, on the other hand, is based on a Nordic story from the 13th century.

According to this saga, Siegfried and Brünhild meet, they want to stay together, home sweet home, happiness alone, a peaceful life on the lonely island of Iceland, story over. Someone didn’t like that and whoever removed the pages in later tradition, the Edda, shall we say. Therefore, the story was told much more brutally. Another beautiful woman comes into play, Kriemhild, who meets Siegfried in Worms. He wants her, but the men in power deal: In order to get Kriemhild, Siegfried should ask King Gunther to “procure” Brünhild – and that is meant to be as brutal as it reads.

What if everything was very different? What if Miss Sophie wanted to fly to the Maldives on her 90th birthday but was trapped in her English country house? If Siegfried was actually a person full of love and longing for intimacy instead of the hero in the sense of fights, battles, killing? What if Brunhild wasn’t the vengeful, cold-hearted monster?

These scenarios are the dramaturgical prerequisite for the Worms production. Following this pattern, the direction in Worms also turns usual aesthetics upside down. What we see on stage is a WhatsApp chat history turned into a performance. It feels like an evening when you took a wrong turn on YouTube and trudged from video to video and suddenly realized that it was already midnight. People speak like Gen Z speaks today. That escalated quickly, says Siegfried, for example, in response to Kriemhild’s ambiguity. Incidentally, Milisavljević called Siegfried Sigurd.

The stream of images on the screen doesn’t stop the whole evening, we see some live videos, some recorded images. A “studio” in which the film is shot live is staged as an American diner, the buttermilk pancakes are on the menu for $5.90, thanks to Michela Flück’s detailed set-up of the stage. There’s a little bit of Tarantino, a little bit of Barry Levinson. A lot of retro, a lilac-colored stage with sand, the title of the play “Brynhild” hangs in neon letters on the posters in Worms.

The music jumps, there is no structured “soundtrack of the evening”, more a kind of playlist and that brings us back to YouTube. Mixing in with the many pop culture allusions is a reference to the iconic scene in which Lee from Tic Tac Toe yells at her bandmate Ricky at a 1997 press conference: If we were really friends – and so forth. Hollywood star Ralf Möller, who plays the dragon, which is actually a human (or vice versa?), whispers at the moment of his death: Time to die. In the end it might be a few hints too many, but then the game with pop culture closes random.

The more the protagonists Sigurd and Brynhild defend themselves against the story prescribed for them over the course of the evening, the more they become robots, puppets, zombies (yes, there are also “The Walking Dead” hints). The strings want to be pulled by those who have always reliably pulled them. The men, of course – that is, Odin, who once put Brünhild to sleep, and Reginn, Sigurd’s foster father.

Dazzling on stage: Lena Urzendowsky as Brynhild, who knows strength as well as fragility, which is actually inherent in her in this 2023 story. And Bekim Latifi as Sigurd, the reluctant hero, matching the retro aesthetic with an 80s hairstyle.

You can find all this stupid. Because: You want your symbolic New Year’s Eve, the usual big carnage, where everyone is dead at the end. But now – oh, the great love, Milisavljević and Karabulut even kiss the two adversaries Kriemhild and Brynhild. Uff. Yes, change is totally exhausting and hurts and such, but you could also be grateful in some way to have seen something different, to have received new impulses, an enormously entertaining, very flowing evening, from which visually maybe not that much sticks, but Honestly, it doesn’t stay that way on an evening when you took a wrong turn on YouTube.

And if all else fails, you can always type “Dinner for One with Freddie Frinton an May Warden” into the search bar on your laptop at home. And then, thanks to the internet, you get the black and white original on any desired day. Kind of calming too.

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